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Knife Grinders

Anne-Marie Ford    -    5 May 2013

On 5th December 1846 in Hitchin, Hertfordshire Moses Fisher, a knife grinder, married Ann Hide, both giving their address as Back Street, Hitchin. Moses was the youngest son of knife grinder Aaron Fisher and his wife Mary Davies/Davis and was baptised on 3rd June 1825 in Hitchin. This seems to have been the area his father settled in more or less permanently, since Aaron’s death is recorded in Hitchin, aged 64, and he was buried there on 2nd January 1845. But Aaron Fisher had been baptised on 22nd July 1787 at the church of St Cecilia, in Adstock, Buckinghamshire. He was the son of Stephen Fisher, a tinker, and Ann Harrup, and his parents appear to have considered Buckinghamshire, rather than Hertfordshire, as their semi-permanent home.

Stephen Fisher had married his second wife, Ann Harrup, on 13thSeptember 1785 in Adstock, Buckinghamshire and a daughter, Elizabeth, was baptised on 8th October 1785 at the church of St Peter and Paul in Buckingham. Another daughter, Martha, was baptised in Bovingdon, Hertfordshire on 27th August 1786, having been born on the 19th August. Stephen declares he is of Adstock, Buckinghamshire, so there is no doubt that this is the right couple. Since a burial of a child, whose parents were named as Stephen and Ann Fisher, was also recorded the same day, it is likely to be little Martha, who disappears from the records, and in spite of the fact that the dead baby has been carelessly recorded as a son.

Most of the known children of Stephen and Ann do, however, seem to have been baptised in Adstock, in the lovely old church of St Cecilia. Isaac was baptised there on 27th January 1793, the son of Stephen Fisher, a tinker, and Ann; Moses, baptised on 16th February 1800 followed, where Stephen is recorded as a razor grinder; Martha, baptised on 24th May 1801, is also the daughter of Stephen Fisher, razor grinder, and Ann. Sadly she, too, like the first Martha, was to die young, aged 19 years, on 6th March 1819 and her burial is recorded at Adstock, where Stephen Fisher, just a few months before, on 22nd December 1818, had been buried, claiming to be aged 84, although this was probably an exaggeration. It is equally possible that the burial of an Ann Fisher, claiming to be 70, on 3rd April 1821, at Adstock, in the same church is Stephen’s widow and Martha’s mother. Stephen, of course, had already fathered four known children with his first wife, Mary, all baptised at St Cecilia’s, Adstock, Buckinghamshire: Mary, baptised 6th January 1771; Ann, baptised 25th July 1772; William, baptised 16th June 1776; Stephen, baptised 26th May 1780.

Stephen’s sons and daughters were to marry both in Buckinghamshire and in Hertfordshire: A possibility is the Mary Fisher who married Samuel Norris on 7th January 1788 at St Cecilia’s in Adstock; Ann Fisher was married to John Hamon on 9th January 1792, at the same location, where Stephen made his mark as one of the witnesses; Moses Fisher, in June 1818, married Elizabeth Nicholls, also in Adstock, and here a Thomas Ayres was a witness. In other parishes, however, there is a Susan/Susannah Fisher marrying a Daniel Collins in 1793 in the church of St Peter and Paul in Buckingham, and a Stephen Fisher is once again a witness, and in 1793 another (or the same?) Mary Fisher marries a Thomas Toogood, again with a Stephen Fisher as a witness. It is perfectly possible that Stephen had other children with his two wives, who have not yet been found in local parish records and a Susan/Susannah may, of course, be one of them.

But it is clear that Hertfordshire continued to be part of the territory this family traversed and for some of Stephen’s descendants it was eventually to become home. Aaron, his son with his second wife, Ann Harrup, seems rarely, if ever, to have left it. His marriage to Mary Davies/Davis resulted in a dozen children, all claiming birth in Hertfordshire, and his son, Moses, was not only baptised and married there, but both he and his wife, Ann Hide, were to be buried there; Moses dying in 1901 and Ann four years later. The 1881 census shows them at Silver Street, Hitchin, with daughters Rachel, born about 1848; Sarah Ann; born around 1851; Emily, born ten years later; Alice, born about 1870; a son, John, born about 1859; a married daughter, Emma, wife of Amos Mead. (She had married in Hitchin as Emma Fisher, daughter of Aaron, grinder, to Amos Mead, son of William, on 26th October 1863, with her sister Rachel as one of the witnesses, the other being Samuel Hares. All had made their mark.)

Although the younger Stephen, son of Stephen and his first wife, Mary, married twice in the same location in Hertfordshire, he appears to have returned to Buckinghamshire in his extreme old age, but Hertfordshire seems to be where he is generally found in the intervening years. He married his first wife, Elizabeth Dodson, on 3rd May 1806 in Aldenham, Hertfordshire, and it was probably Stephen and Elizabeth who baptised a daughter, Charlotte, on 25th December 1806 at St Cecilia’s in Adstock. (I think this is likely, given the date of the younger Stephen’s marriage and the location of the baptism, even though the mother’s name is entered in the records as Eleanor.) Other children of this couple have not been traced, and Elizabeth was to die, aged 35, and was buried at Aldenham on 12th March 1820. Stephen remarried the following year, in the same location, to an Elizabeth Hooper, who had also been widowed. From her marriage to Richard Hooper she had a daughter, Ann, born in 1816, and with Stephen she had five known children: Harriet, baptised at Aldenham on 25th April 1822, having been born on 26th March that year; George, baptised on 6th March 1825, also at Aldenham; Stephen, in the same location, on 29th April 1827; Ellen, baptised in Aldenham on 26th September 1830.

The 1841 census shows this family at Sparrow’s Herne in Bushey, together with an additional daughter, Caroline, born about 1837, who certainly remained in the area, since she baptised a son, William, on 27th November 1856 in Bushey, and her residence is recorded as Clay Hill. In the following year, also in Bushey, Caroline Fisher was to marry Robert Lumm; Harriet Fisher, daughter of Stephen Fisher, married a Robert Gibson in Bushey in 1857; in 1862 George Fisher, son of Stephen Fisher, married Sarah Smith in Bushey, where they also baptised Mary Ann on 2nd April 1865, giving their residence as Clay Hill. The following year, on 1stOctober 1866, their son Henry Fisher was baptised, having, rather surprisingly, been born on 26th March 1863, according to the parish records. Their daughter, Elizabeth, born on 7th September 1867, was baptised on 15th October in the same year, also in Bushey, as was her sister, Esther, on 14th August 1870.

Stephen’s presence in Hertfordshire during these years is also confirmed in a number of court cases. In July 1829 he is found guilty of larceny and sentenced to seven days imprisonment and on 8th April 1841 Stephen Fisher, aged 60, is tried for larceny and this time found not guilty. The following year, however, he is not so fortunate, as the Hertford Mercury and Reformer of 8th January 1842 reported:

Stephen Fisher (61) was charged with feloniously breaking and entering the dwelling house of Moses Batemap, of Bushey, and stealing there from a pocket-book, a crown- piece, five shillings, four sixpences, and a penny. It appeared that the prosecutor and his wife left the house safe at half past five on the morning of 7th December and when they returned at night the door of the house was found open, an entrance having been first effected by breaking a pane of glass near the fastening of the window and thus opening it. A box in which the money was put was also found wrenched open. The prisoner was taken into custody by a policeman, with the pocket-book and money on him. Verdict: Guilty – to be imprisoned for nine months, one week solitary.

In spite of the preference for Hertfordshire exhibited by the younger Stephen, and his descendants, he at least eventually returned to Buckinghamshire permanently, dying in the union workhouse there on 9th March 1866 and claiming to be 92 years of age.

Copyright © 2013 Anne-Marie Ford